Approximately 6,000 people in Michigan are legally using medical marijuana and another 59 applications are submitted to the health department every day. In addition, at any one given time there are countless people using marijuana, and other illicit drugs, illegally. Although marijuana can be detected in a person for up to five weeks after consumption, the effects are usually gone within a few hours. It is this disparity and the extent of the marijuana effects upon driving that are giving the Michigan Courts a new legal challenge.. Two recent cases, State of Michigan vs. Timothy Conant and State of Michigan vs. Justin Malik, highlight the legal issue of having caused a death while driving with marijuana (THC) and alcohol in your system. It is not known if either defendant had the permissive marijuana use card. In each case, the accused was operating a motor vehicle with trace amounts of THC in their system, the accident resulted in a death to another person, and their blood alcohol was under the legal limit for impairment. It is the combination of the trace THC and the alcohol that is under scrutiny.
In the Conant case, Barry County Circuit Judge James Fisher questioned the admissibility and standards regarding the results of Conant's alcohol and THC limits. It is this decision that is currently being challenged at the state court of Appeals. The outcome of this legal challenge will have serious implications to the state of Michigan?s legal standards with regards to drugged and combination drugged and alcohol driving laws.
As it stands now in Michigan, it is against the law to have any trace of an illegal drug in your body while driving. This is known as the 'per se' law. With the passing of the 2009 medical marijuana law, those who have been cleared to use it could be operating a vehicle before the trace amounts have cleared their bodies. Unlike alcohol, the actual time that a person is impaired by THC is much less than the amount of time it takes to entirely clear their body of the residual trace effects. The issue is how the courts will determine to what extent different THC amounts, from trace on up, impair driving. Furthermore, the courts will have to determine how different amounts of THC aid impairment of a person who also How this issue will be decided will affect things like what charges can be brought, how much their fines will be, and how much prison time a convicted person might expect to receive. Up until now the drugged driving laws have lagged behind laws concerning alcohol.
The main reason that drugged driving regulations have lagged behind alcohol regulations is because of the limits in current technology. To test the amount of alcohol in one?s system is done fairly easily with either a breathalyzer test on the spot or a more accurate test done with a blood draw. In order to test for an illegal drug you must have a court order for a blood draw. Even if a court order can be obtained in a timely manner, illegal drugs, including marijuana, have never had an agreed upon limit for impairment. In Michigan, any limit of an illicit drug is grounds to be considered driving under the influence. This issue becomes more complicated when THC is combined with alcohol. There are virtually no studies that have been done to show the effects on impairment when combination drug and alcohol has been used.
Another reason that drugged driving regulations have lagged behind is the availability of scientific research and tests that illustrate the effects of drugs on driving. A multi-country scientific study was recently completed with an abstract objective to develop a ?rational and enforceable basis for controlling the impact of cannabis (THC) use on traffic safety.?
The results of this test indicated that serum concentrations of THC below 10 ng/ml are not associated with an elevated accident risk.
Whether or not the decision of Judge Fisher is upheld, there will have to be some legislative response to this gray area. If his decision is upheld, the 'per se' law will have to be changed to account for trace THC. Either way, the current process that accounts for drugged driving will have to be legislated more effectively.